October US sales fall as auto boom slows

DETROIT – It’s a chilly autumn for U.S. auto sales.

Sales of new cars and trucks were expected to fall in October as consumer demand wanes. J.D. Power and LMC Automotive expect total October sales to fall by just over 7 per cent, with retail sales to individual customers dropping 8 per cent.

General Motors’ sales fell 1.7 per cent from last October while Nissan’s fell 2 per cent. Fiat Chrysler’s sales were down 10 per cent. Volkswagen’s sales fell 18.5 per cent.

Other automakers were expected to release sales later Tuesday. Ford Motor Co. said its sales figures would be delayed until later in the week due to an electrical fire at its headquarters that stopped dealers from reporting sales to its data centre.

October would be the fifth month of year-over-year sales drops, a sign this year could fall short of the 17.5 million sales record set in 2015.

“The fact that retail sales are beginning to contract despite high incentives and extremely low interest rates and gas prices is a clear indicator that this cycle has reached its peak,” said John Humphrey, senior vice-president of J.D. Power’s global automotive practice, who does not expect a large sales decline for the year.

Sales fell even though automakers increased average discounts per vehicle by 12 per cent from last October to $3,726 per vehicle, according to J.D. Power. But the average sales price still was expected to set an October record at $31,383. Prices are rising because more higher-priced trucks and SUVs are being sold.

In previous months, prices of slower-selling cars had fallen due to America’s shift toward SUVs and trucks of all sizes. But Barclays analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a note to investors that softer prices are extending into some SUV segments. Barclays will be watching automaker inventories for signs that they are overbuilding, Johnson wrote.

Automakers said:

— General Motors Co. said its U.S. sales fell 1.7 per cent to 259,000 last month. All brands but Buick reported declines. Sales of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado pickup fell nearly 4 per cent but Chevrolet Tahoe SUV sales rose 81 per cent while GMC Acadia SUV sales were up 24 per cent. GM reported that it’s getting strong prices for its vehicles; its average sale price of $43,988 was a record for October.

— Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said its sales fell 10 per cent to 176,609. Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa and Fiat sales were down, but Ram sales were up 12 per cent on strong sales of its commercial vans.

— Nissan Motor Co.’s sales fell 2 per cent to 113,520. Sales of the newly redesigned Nissan Armada SUV jumped 79 per cent, while sales of the Murano SUV doubled from last year. But Infiniti luxury sales were flat, and Nissan and Infiniti’s combined car sales were down 13 per cent.

— The Volkswagen brand, still recovering from its diesel cheating scandal, said sales fell 18.5 per cent to 24,779. Sales of the newly redesigned Beetle were up 29.5 per cent, but most vehicles saw sales declines.